Album Review: Zarpa – ‘Dispuestos Para Atacar’

OK, this is going to be an interesting one, because I’m going to be reviewing an album by one of the oldest metal bands from Spain (I’m serious: the only Spanish metal band older than them is Nu, who, depending on whether you count their time as Fresa as part of the same band or not, either formed in 1974 or 1971…although it’s interesting to note that both bands released their debut albums in 1978)…and yet, I doubt anyone who isn’t from Spain will have heard of this band. Part of this is because the band has always written their lyrics in their native Spanish, which pretty much means that it’s hard to advertise them to the English-speaking world: it says a lot that the only song I can think of which was not written in English to have crossed over to the UK popular music scene in recent times is ‘Gangnam Style’…and, frankly, the less I have to say about that, the better!

Anyway, Zarpa are a band from Mislata, Valencia in Spain who formed in 1977 and who I can only describe as prolific, having released 15 records in total (although several of these albums were originally unreleased after being recorded and two of them are comprised of material from the recording sessions for this album that didn’t make it onto here). I’m going to break from tradition and not list all of them here, but I will say that fans of the band have basically been treated to a lot of material since 2007…and they weren’t exactly being denied material before then, unless you count Zarpa’s disbandment that basically lasted from 1988 to 1999, with a very brief reunion in 1992. The band’s only remaining founding member is guitarist and vocalist Vicente Feijoo (who has, to date, been part of all lineups save for the one in 1992), with the rest of the band being members who have joined since the 2000s: bassist Vicente Romera joined in 2002, drummer Bienvendio Godoy joined in 2004 and guitarist Serafin joined in 2015. None of the previous members (let alone the current members) have really made an impact upon the worldwide stage, although ex-drummer Manolo Cascales might be familiar to music fans from Spain due to being a former member of A LOT of bands, not all of which are metal focused.

So, with all of that information out of the way, what do I think of Dispuestos Para Atacar? Well…it’s actually pretty damn good! It’s not the most original of records, I’ll admit, but there’s a lot which works about it and the issues I have with it are minimal.

Maquetación 1

The band’s sound is pretty much old fashioned traditional heavy metal, with no real messing about beyond that. This is really what I mean when I say this isn’t the most original of records: aside from the band’s lyrics being in Spanish, there’s nothing here that fans of the genre won’t have heard before from bands like Saxon or (to a downplayed extent) Iron Maiden. This isn’t a bad thing, obviously, but it is an observation that is hard to ignore. To be fair, this isn’t really the fault of the band: when they were first around, this sound would have been fairly new and would have been really exciting to hear, but, in today’s metal scene, where this is a popular sound among retro metal bands and the internet makes it really easy to find information about bands doing this style of music on a worldwide scale, it’s hard to really make a big fuss about it.

The band’s songwriting is where the band really comes into their own, with every song being good enough to put many of their English speaking competitors to shame. Every single song is built upon excellent guitar work that, while not the most technical of playing, is memorable, more than a bit speedy (though never pushing into thrash metal territory) and powerful, but that isn’t to say that the rest of the songwriting falls flat either: the choruses to the songs are all pretty catchy and, despite not understanding a word of Spanish, I found myself attempting to sing along to the music quite cheerfully (no doubt butchering the pronunciation of every word so badly that I should be glad that nobody I know is fluent in the language). It’s hard to say which songs I feel are the best of the bunch, really, as all of them work out well! True, no boundaries are broken on the structures front, but the final result is so good that it is hard to complain!

The instrument performances on the record are pretty solid overall. The guitars by Feijoo and Serafin are fairly solid for the genre’s standards, with a decent amount of skill on the rhythm guitar front (not enough to push the band into prog territory, but enough to show the band have a degree of skill to them) and some pretty solid lead guitarwork that results in some fairly interesting guitar solos. Godoy’s drumming is pretty solid overall: he isn’t on the level of Nicko McBrain in terms of technicality, but he certainly knows what he is doing and does it well. Romera’s bass is not the focus of the band at all, so he doesn’t have the most technical of material to work with, but what he does have to work with does show him to be a more-than-competent bassist who is capable of some fairly solid playing (the opening of ‘Yo Quiero Mas’ shows this fairly nicely).

Feijoo’s vocals are slightly limited in terms of his vocal range, but, for a guy who is 58 years old this year, he actually sounds pretty good! His vocal tone has a slight bit of aggression to it that fits the music, but he’s still clearly a clean singer first and foremost (beyond one or two harsher vocals which make a brief appearance across the record, but they’re not a core focus of the band’s sound by any measure) and even throws in a few falsetto screams at points in the record which show he has a bit. He does sound like he is an older vocalist, but you wouldn’t think the guy is coming close to 60 from his vocal performance!

The production on the record, honestly, is pretty close to what I’d want to hear from this sort of music, with just two minor issues that I feel I should highlight. The first is the mastering, which isn’t bad at all (it helps to give the music a bit of a kick without detracting from the sound quality), but I do feel it is louder than I would personally like. The second is the unavoidable fact that the digital production is noticeable when you listen to it closely, which makes the record lack something compared to the same classic albums heard in the 80s which this fits in with. Neither are a major problem, though, and there’s certainly FAR worse production jobs out there than on this record. The rest of the production is pretty much excellent: the mixing handles all of the instruments well (even the bass has a very good presence in the mix, being fairly easily audible throughout the record), they sound fine (not too much distortion on the guitars making it hard to hear what is being played, for one thing!) and the end result is a very professional production job that, had the mastering been better handled, might have resulted in one of the best production jobs I’ve heard all year. As it stands, though, it is a very solid production job that shows that the people who did it definitely knew what they were doing and deserve a lot of praise for it.

Ultimately, Dispuestos Para Atacar was a very pleasant surprise for me. I wasn’t entirely expecting to like the record, if I’m being honest, as I’d been rather disappointed the last few times I’ve had to review traditional heavy metal albums over the course of 2016 and I had mentally prepared to write this one off. Yet it genuinely does not warrant writing off at all: in fact, I would go so far as to say that this might be one of the strongest traditional heavy metal albums I’ve heard in a long time. If you’re a traditional heavy metal fan at all, then this is one record that you’re definitely going to want to check out, because, while it isn’t particularly original, it does everything right and does it well!

Dispuestos Para Atacar will be released on the 3rd of June by Pure Steel Records. A promo copy of the album was provided for review purposes.

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